The Met HD Ring Cycle has come and gone, and what a lackluster finale.
The peripheral characters were all quite good – Hans-Peter König was a smooth and insidious Hagen (and as the only performer who appears in all four operas, it was fascinating to watch him through the cycle). Iain Paterson’s Gunther was very natural and human. Wendy Bryn Harmer’s Gutrune started out pretty interesting – ambitious and a little sly, but that characterization was never resolved within the actions of the opera, which is a shame. I don’t think it would have been difficult to round out that take on the character. I wish Eric Owens’s Alberich had been a little more warped and cruel; this is a man (dwarf) who spent his entire life and beyond being eaten away by hate and greed. It didn’t help that his clothes and hair were totally plain in this opera. Very strange – like he’d been domesticated. I liked the Rhine maidens’ costume change, and Erin Morley contributed a lovely bright sound to the trio. And, as we all know, Waltraud Meier was brilliant, and her interview during the intermission was as articulate, incisive, and intelligent as her performance. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the Norns, but my guess is that a lot of time was spent in rehearsal trying to choreograph the ropes and less attention was paid to the women holding them.
Alas, Jay Hunter Morris lost something between Siegfried and G-dämmerung. His acting was too much; mawkish, even. Deborah Voigt seemed slightly more engaged when Brünnhilde was angry, but the final scene and the immolation were lackluster. I was really struck by the way she carried herself in this one – she had princess arms the whole time. I’m not saying Brünhilde shouldn’t be graceful, but her gestures and bearing should never seem to be purely aesthetic, in my opinion.
The set plays less and less of a role in each opera, it seems (forcing one to wonder what the point of all that trouble was if you’re not going to utilize the machine through all four operas). The Norns’ scene was probably more impressive in the opera house. The planks flipping around wildly in the background made me nervous for the safety of the performers and the soundness of the machine. And why were the men in the hunting party wearing essentially contemporary costumes? I don’t think they had caps like that in vague Teutonic myth-time-period. Finally, I wasn’t bothered so much by the way the statues exploded (though that is a really boring Ragnarok, right there) as how horrible the statues were. I didn’t love the costuming/hair in Rheingold, but seeing it on those statues really threw that design into perspective. Fricka looked like Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus, Wotan looked like the offspring of the Highlander and Meatloaf, and Donner looked like Plácido Domingo as Lohengrin. How can I feel a profound sense of sorrow and liberation at the destruction of Valhalla when it’s so tacky?
This Ring came up while I was hanging out with some theatre friends and acquaintances. One acquaintance remarked that the production looked incredible. I responded that I found the production to be disappointing and totally unchallenging, to which he said, “That’s why they built such an amazing set.” I let it go at that point, but part of me really wanted to tell him he had no idea what he was talking about. I respect this acquaintance – I think he is very talented and, although I don’t know him very well, I am confident that he has very strong beliefs in presenting insightful, challenging theatre. I think if he had seen the production and witnessed the way Gelb and Lepage have been responding to their critics, he might feel differently; but there was no way I could have explained everything to him without sounding like a cranky purist. I think that’s probably the most infuriating thing about this whole debacle – it makes the reactions of reasonable, thoughtful people seem like unreasonable reactionaries. I find myself saying things like, “If only Lepage would pay more attention to the score” and decrying the frivolous spectacle of Lepage’s technology (and, let’s be frank, Otto Schenk’s sets managed cinemagic just as, if not more effectively than Lepage’s planks and nature screensavers) – but I’m not wrong! I am not wrong to think these things in this case, but I sound like “those people” and therefore my opinions are invalidated. I feel like Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight.
The set does not compensate for the traditional interpretation of the operas. It distracts from the text not because it’s so remarkable or avant garde, but because the director has neglected to devise a complete and thorough dramatic interpretation into which the machine can be integrated. I mean… Wagner essentially pioneered that idea that the design should serve the drama. It was part of the whole Gesamtkunstwerk thing – come on, Lepage! This is Wagner’s nightmare!
Maybe Gelb and Lepage will have a good long think over the summer – Gelb will rethink his management approach; Lepage will restage sections of the Ring, replace his screensavers with cool, stylized flash or hand-drawn animation, ask for more rehearsal time, and discover the alien technology that will allow his engineers to make the machine transitions silent and seamless… That is my dream.